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Jakarta Post

Jakarta bylaw aims to punish COVID-19 naysayers

  • Sausan Atika

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, October 22, 2020   /   09:02 am
Jakarta bylaw aims to punish COVID-19 naysayers Gravediggers lower a coffin into a grave in Pondok Ranggon public cemetery in East Jakarta on Oct. 5. Many Indonesians fear the stigma surrounding COVID-19 and have pushed back on health protocols as a result. (JP/P.J. Leo)

Jakarta has become the second region in the country to issue a COVID-19-related bylaw after the City Council and the administration agreed to endorse a set of provisions on Monday to penalize stigma-related noncompliance with COVID-19 policies.

The final draft of the bylaw, which was obtained by The Jakarta Post, stipulates new punitive measures, namely a maximum fine of Rp 5 million for people who refuse to take polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, refuse to undergo COVID-19 treatment or vaccination, escape from healthcare or isolation facilities or insist on taking the remains of people who have died of a probable or confirmed case of the disease.

People who, in an effort to take the bodies of COVID-19 victims, threaten authorities or disregard protocols will be fined more – a maximum of Rp 7.5 million.

The move comes as the country’s COVID-19 case tally continues to rise. In July, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo instructed regional administrations to formulate their own COVID-19 response bylaws to provide a legal basis for sanctions and punishments.

Read also: Coronavirus stigma runs deep and dangerous in Indonesia

Many regions have responded by implementing punitive provisions using legal instruments such as circular letters or gubernatorial regulations. But this has raised public concerns. The 2011 Regional Government Law stipulates that fines can only be established by regional bylaws or higher levels of regulation.

Last month, West Sumatra became the first region to issue a COVID-19 bylaw, which took effect on Saturday. The bylaw includes a stipulation that people who do not wear masks or other appropriate face coverings in public may serve a public service sentence of 30 minutes or pay a Rp 100,000 (US$6.82) fine.

The capital followed suit on Monday as the City Council and the administration endorsed the bylaw, which takes effect on Nov. 19.

Jakarta, the country’s first outbreak epicenter, was also the first region to impose fines and social work for individuals and fines and temporary closures for businesses, through the issuance of a gubernatorial regulation in May.

Read also: Violators, beware! New decree grants PSBB sanctioning power to Jakarta agencies

The Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) has since collected nearly Rp 5 billion in fines from individuals for not wearing face coverings in public and from businesses for failing to adhere to health protocols.

The negative stigma surrounding COVID-19 and its spillover effects on medical workers and patients have largely persisted in Indonesia. Many people still reject PCR tests and protocol-mandated burials, thereby hampering efforts to break the chain of transmission.

A recent video circulating on social media shows residents of Probolinggo’s Pakuniran district in East Java forcibly taking the remains of a resident who has died of COVID-19 from paramedics. The residents refused to let authorities bury the body in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, according to media reports.

Jakarta Council Speaker Prasetyo Edi Marsudi of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said the bylaw aimed to deter negligence in adherence to health protocols.

"I believe it will cause a deterrent effect [...] as the sanctions have been strengthened," Prasetyo said after a plenary meeting to endorse the bylaw on Monday.

Pantas Nainggolan, head of the Jakarta Council's legislative body (Bapemperda), said the actual fines would be decided after legally processing a minor offense in the Criminal Code known as a tipiring.

“Through a trial held by the court on a minor offense, [violators] could be fined Rp 100,000, for instance. Rp 5 million is the highest,” he told the Post.

Despite the new sanctions, the PDI-P politician said he was expecting the Jakarta administration to make further efforts to raise awareness about the importance of health protocols.

"The city's information and communications agency must deploy all of its [resources] to disseminate [information about COVID-19]. [Other] authorities and business players also have to join the cause," he said.

Read also: For some Indonesians, COVID-19 stigma worse than disease

“It would also be better if the central government could encourage satellite cities [to endorse similar bylaws] in line with the one we endorsed, as this regulation is limited to the Jakarta administrative region," Pantas added.

Irma Hidayana, who has a doctorate in health education and behavior studies from Columbia University, doubted that the fines would achieve the desired deterrent effect, even if such an approach had worked in other countries, such as Germany and Australia.

“Public health surveillance and education in regards to the disease in other countries are better, as is their measured and transparent handling [of the outbreak]. This differs greatly from Indonesia, where the people’s ability to pay fines, the local culture, the awareness and stigma [associated with the disease] are all complex and persistent,” she said.

“No matter how many fines are imposed, the level of success of such measures will be different in Indonesia, unless raising understanding of the disease is carried out hand in hand,” she added.

Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria said his administration had continuously improved the city’s health facilities amid the persistent growth of cases in the capital. However, he did not elaborate on efforts to inform the public about COVID-19.

Riza called on Jakartans to stay at home, particularly ahead of the long weekend at the end of October, and to follow health protocols strictly and work on boosting their immune systems.